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Friday, 10 January 2014

2015: The power of the 18-24 age group!

In so many ways, it is the young people who hold the balance of power in the UK today - and a good thing too. A generation has emerged knowing that the State will support them far less than any of their predecessors. No student grants for them. They must borrow £9,000 per annum to gain the degree which the current job market demands.

The young students in this and many other countries have always been found on the more radical edges of political opinion and the present crop is no different. Many a coach trip has been organised for students to travel to London to give vent to their spleen. Demonstrating in this way is admirable but soon lost as the resignation of age supercedes the passion of youth. Unfortunately, their propensity to demonstrate was not carried over to the ballot box at the last election. If they can learn the lesson in 2015, it is they who will hold the balance of power.

In the 2010 general election, only 44% of the 18-24 age group exercised their right to vote. This was in stark contrast to the 76% of those over 65. For the first time in 2010, we were treated to the spectacle of the political leaders engaging in live televised debates. The performance of Nick Clegg in particular resonated with the younger generation. Had they voted accordingly, the result of the last election might have been rather different.

Ironically, the decision of Nick Clegg in government to back track on his promise to abolish tuition fees went down like a lead balloon so they were perhaps wise not to vote in great numbers. That apart though, their voice does count and their numbers are considerable. Current opinion points to another hung Parliament. Whether this is a coalition of the Liberals with the Conservatives or Labour is of huge significance. That ignores the potential of UKIP to spoil the party. There remains one inescapable fact which makes the latter all the more pertinent.

The last time the British public were considered worthy of a say in their place in Europe was in 1975. This means that anybody born after 1957 has never been consulted on their view. That amounts to approximately 34 million people. That is about 70% of the voting population. That is utterly staggering. It is why UKIP can't be ignored. Regardless of their other policies, their absolute promise to grant us a new referendum sets them apart from all the other parties. The Conservative pledge is neatly wrapped up in ifs buts and maybes so carries no weight. The UKIP stance is beyond question.

Whatever your views on our place in Europe, it is now two generations since we have even been asked. For this reason, UKIP will garner far more votes than people realise. Granted, they will naturally prosper at this year's European elections. But it is their performance next year which will surprise many. They will take many votes from the Conservatives but will also take their fair share from both Labour and the Liberals too. It all hinges on whether they can convert those votes in to seats and I believe they can. This makes for interesting times.

The only coalition permutation which is difficult to imagine is a Liberal/UKIP partnership. Aside from anything else, the block votes will tend to stay with the Conservatives and Labour if only due to voting tradition. The polarity of UKIP and the Liberals with regard to Europe would also make such an alliance rather far fetched. The prospect of the Liberals making sufficient gains to hold the balance of power looks rather ambitious currently.

As the economy continues it's gradual rise out of the ashes of despair, the Conservatives will be keen to take credit for their policies. There will be 650 seats up for grabs - provided the Scots vote to stay in the Union. If they don't, their will be 59 less seats to fight over. More pertinently, it will dramatically reduce the chances of a Labour majority as they won 41 seats last time round north of the border. By contrast, the Tories only won 1 seat so would barely notice the difference. They would still need to secure a majority without Scotland though and that might not be as straightforward as they think. In 2010, they secured 306 seats including that solitary victory in Scotland. 305 seats would be enough based on a revised figure of 591 seats should the Scots elect to go their own way.

But will they hang on to that 305? One thing is for certain. If the 18-24 age bracket comes out to vote in the same proportion as those over the age of 65, dreams of a Tory majority will be over. Also, if UKIP take seats in 2015, somebody will end up having to negotiate with them and the Tories wouldn't want to be in that position. But what of Labour? If the Scots do vote for independence, Labour will need a miracle of biblical proportion to gain a majority south of the border. Last time, they secured 217 seats south of the border so would need to gain a further 79 seats to gain an outright majority. To achieve that, they would need to take all the Liberal seats and a great many Tory seats to boot. Unless Miliband produces a few unforeseen white rabbits, such an outcome is currently very unlikely. Unless of course the 18-24 age group comes out to play. If they do, such a majority starts to become rather more realistic.

This is why the outcome of the general election in 2015 will depend largely on who can best engage the young voters and persuade them to vote. If any Party leader connects with them, the 2015 election is there for the taking. We were told yesterday that this generation has their wits about them. They drink far less alcohol than their predecessors and seem far more engaged with the world around them. If they take that last bold step toward the ballot box, they will have the last say on the new occupant of Downing Street in 2015.